Practice

by Sherrie Flick

Her yellow slicker, the one that leaked, hung from the coat rack by the front door. Sarah was alone, the living room silent except for the spilling rain, its pitter-patter in the morning light, the streaks of water across the floor.

Sarah was naked, now that the slicker was off and on its hook, and exhausted, what with the late hours—and the, what would her father call it? The “infidelities.” She had caught that afterall, hadn’t she? A tiny virus settling in the bottom of all those cardboard boxes she’d carted out here to the suburbs, scattered across this god awful house she swore she would not buy with Roger, but has. She breathed it in as she unpacked.

The house, the affair, her father, Roger, the yellow slicker, the rain, rat-tap-tapping at the gutters.

And the music in her head, that’s dad, too, in another too-big house, practicing his viola. Long stark notes echoing down the hallway of her childhood home. The endless practice sessions.

Later he would be stark naked too, sequestered with who-knows-who in his bedroom. The string of ladies after her mother died. The snaking, curling taunting notes.

But Sarah can’t think this way, not with her body stark and small against the expansive velvet couch, goosebumps parading across her curved belly, quick down her thighs.

Yes, she’s practicing, too. Painted toes now curling onto the coffeetable placed upon the Mexican throw rug. The beads swinging from the kitchen doorway, her one eclectic allowance, rattle as Fi-Fi the cat wanders in and settles herself in the center of the floor: the middle of the middle orange square in the carpet.

Sarah had wanted a dog, a snuggly Cape Cod—a pet full of life, a house small and manageable, a husband who was kind and complicated—but no. Roger had something else to prove. His smart hands, his conniving eyes, his reliable well-pressed, flat-front pants.

Sarah had something to prove too. Last night she put forth a thing or three over at Buck’s place. But then there was the short-circuiting, the heave of repulsive regret. She left quickly without her clothes—only the slicker slipping, flapping against her sticky skin.

Remorse shivers into the empty room.

Far away, her father reaches a crescendo. Closing his eyes, his skin is wispy tissue. His bow whispers, it says, “See?”

Sherrie Flick is author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness and the flash fiction chapbook I Call This Flirting. Her flash fiction has appeared in many journals and anthologies over the years. Recent and forthcoming publications include: Flash Fiction Funny, Ploughshares, SmokeLong, Wigleaf, Chicago Quarterly Review, Booth, Revolution House, Corium, Cortland Review, and New World Writing. She lives in Pittsburgh where she teaches in Chatham University’s MFA program.

What fascinating, surprising things can you tell us about the origin, writing, revision of this piece?

    I taught a small private writing workshop about 7 years ago. Once a week for 6 weeks, I walked the class through a selection of generative writing exercises focused on craft elements and sentence revision. “Practice” came out of one of these sessions. As a group we decided that the story had to be set in the suburbs and it had to have one surprising object in it (mine being the beads hanging in the doorway between the kitchen and living room). I had each member of the class list something on the board that was true from their own life, and then we each had to pick one of those things to use in our story. I stole someone’s father playing the viola from the board. If I remember correctly, there had to be weather in the background and we were closely discussing setting that week.

    I love writing along with these kinds of exercises because often the recipe of requirements pushes me away from something I would normally write toward a more surprising scenario. For me, it’s the father playing the viola—the father as character here—that interested me and kept me revising the story over the years until it took this form.

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